Letter to storm boy

Tribe Global VC spends a reasonable amount of time with founders’ discussing the personal aspects of the entrepreneurial journey. We’ve been on the journey and know the personal ups and downs. This is one of those more personal blogs.

A couple of decades before joining Tribe I got a lucky break young and was backed into business by my father at 18. I compounded this opportunity and achieved some privileged experiences that do not open to most until later in life. If ever. It is now nearly 22 years later, and Tribe co-founder Elaine was recently asked to join a panel where the question was “what would you tell your younger self?” We put down some thoughts and here were mine. It’s part personal and part related to how Tribe goes about supporting and working with founders.

  • Simplicity is the key. Complexity feels cool and is a differentiator. Simple messages and products that are easily understood by those you are talking to will wipe the floor with complex ones even if the complex ones deliver better outcomes. If you confuse, you lose.
  • You are not your business. Don’t tether yourself to it so much. Be a human. Have a business. There will be ups and downs in business, and if you tether yourself to it, you’ll be up and down at the whim of the business, which is bad for you and everyone around you. And when you’re down, you’ll do things to try and get back up, that will in fact bring you back down.
  • In hindsight, the journey is more fun than the destination, but at the time it doesn’t feel like it. Try to get more enjoyment out of the journey because the destination tends to feel hollow if/when you get there. Keep creating a series of journeys, not a series of defined outcomes.
  • Do whatever you can to play with people you really like to play with. Playing with people you don’t like, just to achieve an outcome just doesn’t work.
  • Relationships of trust and respect beat a good product every day. Don’t spend as much time on the little product details, spend it building relationships and networks that have deep trust and respect. Learn how to develop trust and respect earlier.
  • One of the best ways to build genuine networks and relationships is to be of value to others on a no expectations basis. If you expect something in return, you’re missing the point and the opportunity.
  • The loss of relationships that you fucked up is painful, and a pain that doesn’t seem to disappear fyi. Life will always remind you about them from time to time. The best way to not have this pain is to put integrity in the centre and prioritise early and honest conversations, even if they are uncomfortable. Don’t kick the can. The can gets heavier and will eventually squash you. Try and learn this earlier than you did. Life will be better.
  • Being able to harness conflict is a superpower. Conflict is where it is at. It starts with accepting it is inevitable and there is a difference between destructive and constructive conflict. When conflict turns destructive, slow down. Work out what the conflict is and why it is destructive. Have processes in place to fall back on to help you unpack the conflict. Take a leadership role in relationships and be the one to rise above others to be the conflict harnesser if you can. But if you can’t, accept it and get out early. Don’t wallow in the mud with others. Life’s too short.
  • You are going to fall on you face either by your own doing or someone else’s. Know in the moment that whilst it is shit, you actually have the capability to get out of the hole. You don’t in the moment, but others actually believe more in you than you do. Believe them. When you do find yourself in the “trough of fuckery”, if you take a more positive view and cultivate a positive mindset, you’ll get out earlier. Even if you don’t believe it, pretend you do, because you’ll learn that whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.
  • Self-pity is corrosive and kills your capability and capacity. You fucked it up, and that’s life. It was never going to go a different way because it didn’t. Behave above the line, learn from it, get on with it.
  • The good thing is that at a base level life and situations that happen to us are “meaningless” as far as the universe goes. The universe wasn’t created with specific meanings. Any meaning that is given to an event or situation is because we or groups of us have given it that meaning. As such, we can apply different meanings to things if we want to, although sometimes that is very hard and takes a lot of mental investment to fight our default human meaning making machine.
  • You need less resources than you think you do. It is resourcefulness that wins over resources almost every time. Enjoy the challenge of doing things you didn’t think you had the resources to do.
  • Money just gets you choice and freedom and shouldn’t be the specific focus. Later in life you’ll deal with a lot of people who are very rich. Many are very miserable and not very “wealthy”. Don’t be one.
  • Invest in your ability to “watch yourself” reacting to impulses and feelings. Separate your awareness of the feeling, from the feeling itself before reacting to it. Some can do this innately. You can’t- you need to learn it and practise it. Understand that your brain unconsciously fires off signals that pump out chemicals that lead to feelings. You then react to these feeling which creates more brain signals, more chemicals etc, and nek minit… There’s a reason some have considered you a cranky little wanker in the past. Try and be a witness to this process occurring and pause to analyse it before reacting. Understand you weren’t born with this ability, so learn it early because the chains of bad habits are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. Accept your brain can be a bit of a prick, so observe it to see if it is being a good brain or prick brain.
  • Accept your view of yourself is not the way others see you, especially your spouse. Home, friends, and business are like playing on separate tennis courts. If you play well on one and not another, don’t expect those where you are not playing well on to be happy with you just because you play well on the other one. You’ll need attention, presence, and focus if you’re going to seek to play all of them well. Balance is required.
  • Make sure you have enough trust and respect to regularly check in with people, and have people you know will call bullshit, or you’ll be surprised to find you’re on a different planet. Surround yourself those that command and grant trust and respect. In any sort of relationship, it needs to be a two-way street as you’ll learn it is very difficult if one of you doesn’t aspire to these concepts.
  • You’re going to die. Stop worrying so much.
About the Author

Portfolio Support & Co-founder

Don brings extensive experience as a founder and investor to lead our hands-on support for portfolio ventures.